Electronic Edition with new introduction by Minnie Bruce Pratt September 2011
Table of Contents Introduction: The Struggle to Write Editorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Note The Sound of One Fork Appendix
i x xii a
The Sound of One Fork by Minnie Bruce Pratt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.LesbianPoetryArchive.org and www.mbpratt.org.
THE STRUGGLE TO WRITE Minnie Bruce Pratt The Sound of One Fork was my first book of poetry, published in 1981. These poems and I emerged together from the women’s liberation and lesbian/gay liberation movements of the 1970s. I had written poetry in college, but had stopped writing when, barely turned twenty, I had married a poet in 1966. Like so many other women of my generation, I married the person I wanted to be—and then had my world turned upside down when I had two children in quick succession, eighteen months apart. At the same time, while in graduate school at the University of North Carolina, I got to know feminists and lesbians involved in early women’s liberation in Durham and Chapel Hill—a movement then developing from both the anti-Vietnam war movement and the Black civil rights movement. The range of women’s organizing was wide—from forming Marxist study groups to publishing non-sexist children’s literature, from fighting for pay equity in university teaching positions to doing support work for prisoner liberation and for Joann Little—a Black woman who had defended herself, killing a prison guard who attempted to rape her.i In this productive ferment, I began reading feminist theory and writing short book reviews for a local movement publication, the Female Liberation Newsletter—begun in 1969 and sold at a women’s liberation lit table for 2 cents in mimeo. And then, I began to write poetry again in 1975, when I fell in love with another woman. I returned to poetry, not because I had “become a lesbian”—but because I had returned to my own body after years of alienation. The sensual details of life are the raw materials of a poet—and with that falling-in-love I was able to return to living fully in my own fleshly self. By 1979 the Female Liberation Newsletter had evolved into Feminary, first a quarterly feminist community magazine and then a literary publication self-described as a "feminist journal for the South emphasizing lesbian visions," which had both a regional and national readership. That year, while living in Fayetteville, North Carolina, I became part of the Feminary editorial collective based in Durham, North Carolina. Others in the editorial collective during the time I was a member were Susan Ballinger, i
Eleanor Holland, Helen Langa, Deborah Giddens, Raymina Y. Mays, Mab Segrest, Cris South, and Aida Wakil.ii We were a group of anti-racist, anti-imperialist Southern lesbians—Black, white, Jewish, Arab. All of us had to work for our living—some held bluecollar and some white-collar jobs—and we struggled as explicitly with issues of class inequality as we did with racism, especially in the matrix of the U. S. South, and with anti-Semitism, toward both Arabs and Jews. Inspired by the U.S. Women in Print Movement, different members of our collective learned all aspects of book production—from editing, page design and layout to burning text into the metal plates required by our old printing press; from the actual printing to hand-collating, stapling, and trimming the magazines. We worked with huge clumsy equipment borrowed from Lollipop Power, a feminist press that published non-sexist children’s books. And when we finally held the copies of the printed journal in our hands, then we had to tackle distribution. The Women in Print Movement had emerged in the 1960s as a U.S.-wide effort to make the ideas and art of women’s liberation, including lesbian lives, available to the widest possible audience. In a brief online history of the movement, Mev Miller says: “Women in Print was a strategy to build solidarity and to create actions for change.” The movement included writing retreats and groups, newsletters, magazines, newspapers, political and literary journals, book publishing, bookstores, distribution networks, and national conferences taking up practical and theoretical issues.iii This larger movement developed both consciousness and skills. I, along with others, began to make our own books in that collective context. When I published The Sound of One Fork in 1981, the illustrations were drawn by local artist Sue Sneddon, the printing was done by Feminary collective member Cris South, and the poems were written, typed, and then burned onto the printing plates by me. By that time my children were ten and twelve years old. When I came out as a lesbian, I had lost custody of them to their father. (I later wrote about this struggle in the poems of Crime Against Nature.) The lightning bolt of that loss etched into me an indelible understanding of the economic and political system I lived inside. I was living in Fayetteville, North Carolina, at the time—where de facto segregation was enforced by the white majority, where the country club set still excluded people who were Jewish, and where the state sodomy laws declared any lover of her (or his) own sex to be not only “unnatural” but also a potential felon. ii
I struggled to stay connected to my children, even as their father moved them hundreds of miles away. My favorite memory from making The Sound of One Fork is how I stood next to my two sons, facing a long counter workspace in the cavernous Lollipop Power warehouse. We worked together collating and stapling pages the pages of the book; then we took turns putting stacks of books into the trimmer, and swinging its giant guillotine-like arms. Over the next two years, I got in my little red Volkswagen “bug” and drove myself all over the South—to see my children in Kentucky, and to do readings from this first book of poetry. In 1983 I visited ten cities in fourteen days. I read from my work in the homes of lesbians in Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis, Tennessee; at a conference on violence against women in Little Rock, and at a women’s cultural center in Fayetteville, Arkansas; at an MCC church in Jackson, Mississippi; at an abortion clinic in New Orleans; for college students in English and Women’s Studies at universities in Huntsville and Tuscaloosa, and at Lodestar, the first women’s bookstore in Birmingham, Alabama. My travels were not unusual. All over the U.S., women in general, and lesbians in particular, were in a creative whirlwind of political and cultural work. And the Women in Print movement was not unique—all political liberation movements must bring forward suppressed ideas and often develop cultural, literary and journalistic organizations. The Women in Print movement was necessary because, not surprisingly, national mainstream publishing corporations were not interested in encouraging independent women’s liberation or lesbian grass-roots organizing through germination and distribution of our work. Locally, when we produced art and writing that directly addressed certain crucial issues—sexuality, women’s bodies and our health—the companies that we paid to print our journals or newsletters frequently refused to do so once they saw our content and politics—sometimes claiming it was “pornographic,” sometimes because company owners held to patriarchal domination, and so deemed us “unnatural women.” These were not isolated, individual acts of bigotry, but the continuation of limits on public communication that had been accelerated by the passage of U.S. federal and state laws linked to the 1873 Comstock Act. That federal legislation made it illegal to send "obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious" material through the U.S. mail. The prohibition included contraceptive devices, any information on abortion or prevention of iii
pregnancy, and, of course, any materials or devices related to samesex/gender love. The provisions of the 1873 “Comstock laws” were still in effect in 1954 when an issue of the gay magazine One was seized from the U.S. mail in Los Angeles. The U.S. Post Office and the F.B.I. used the authority of the Comstock Act to try to shut down the magazine, a publication that had spun off from an early gay rights group, the Mattachine Society. One official reason given for the censorship? A short story, “Sappho Remembered,” condemned as “cheap pornography,” that described a lesbian woman’s affection for another woman. The subsequent court battle for One magazine, won by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT+) organizing, culminated in the 1958 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that granted free press rights to discussions about “homosexuality” for the first time.iv It was this ruling that won the right for the Feminary collective to send our laboriously assembled literary journal out through the U.S. mail—that enabled us to do more than hand-carry copies to our readers. But the bigotry that had generated the Comstock laws was still firmly in place in other legal and social structures in the 1970s. For instance, “crime against nature” statutes continued on the books in two-thirds of the U.S. states, criminalizing LGBT+ people, our lives, and our loves. My husband used the anti-sodomy laws in North Carolina in 1975 to take my children away, arguing that as a lesbian, I was engaging in illegal, felonious behavior. My “unorthodox” belief in the equality of women within heterosexual marriage—seen as an attack on the “role of the father in the family”—was the final proof I was an “unfit mother.” So, when Women in Print activists Nancy Blood, Leslie Kahn, and others in Durham, North Carolina, decided to expand the Female Liberation Newsletter into Feminary, a magazine, in the mid-1970s, they were not simply launching a literary or journalistic project. They were organizing against an entrenched anti-woman, anti-lesbian, anti-sexual current that raged, deeply embedded, in all economic and social structures in the U.S. They chose a name for the magazine from a passage in Monique Wittig’s Les Guérillères. The women in that novel had small books called feminaries, made of pages of text and of blank pages where the women wrote as they pleased. In Wittig's novel, several women say to a “great gathering of women”: “There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that....You say iv
you have lost all recollection of it....You say there are no words to describe this time, you say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.”v What kind of woman, what kind of person is she who has not been imagined yet? We knew only—from memory and scraps of story and flimsy pages—that we were the daughters of the great mass liberation movements of the U.S. in the 20th century. We knew that living on within us were the people who had fought the labor union battles of the 30's, the people who shaped the Black civil rights and other national liberation movements of the 50s and 60s, the anti-Vietnam war and women’s liberation movements of the 60s and 70s. We were creating in a space that had been cleared by these people, those struggles, a space into which we were writing our lives and histories. And we knew also that there was a time, almost within living memory, when some women’s grandmothers’ mothers were enslaved, and some were not. We asked ourselves, what does it mean to recover memory and history under these circumstances? We knew that anti-racist work and writing, political struggle and art, were inextricably intertwined.vi In 1980, in response to an interviewer asking about my “lesbian aesthetics,” I answered: I started writing poetry again because I became a lesbian and a feminist and because I came to see, to understand, the need for a radical, transformative change in the human world I live in. I became a poet because I became a revolutionary, and I have always felt that my writing was only one part of my work, no more or less important than starting a C-R [consciousnessraising] group on racism and feminism, or marching by the Washington Monument for lesbian rights, or any one of the actions that I do…. In so far as theory about revolutionary poetics, the only person that I’ve read that has said anything that helps or confirms my ideas [is] Frantz Fanon—a Black revolutionary [who was part of the anti-colonial Algerian struggle against France]….He says that as a people becomes less colonized, their writers produce a fighting literature, a revolutionary literature. The writer becomes an “awakener of the people.” He says, “During this phase a great many men and women who up till then would never have thought of producing a literary work, now that they find themselves in exceptional circumstances—in prison, with the Maquis, or on the eve of their execution—feel the need to speak…to compose the sentence which expresses the heart of the v
people….” In speaking of poetic form Fanon says, “The present is no longer turned on itself but spread out for all to see.”vii
My heart resonated to the hope and resistance in Fanon’s words as I struggled to survive the loss of my children, the criminalization of my sexuality, and the rejection by my family. I wrote in 1980 that Fanon’s words were “very true of my feeling of urgency and immediacy in beginning to write again.” As a white Southern-born woman working to become an anti-racist, I grasped in my deepest self the necessity to act in conscious solidarity with liberation struggles other than my own. I was coming to consciousness in a century when world-wide liberation movements of colonized peoples, from Algeria to South Africa, from India to the Philippines, were fighting to free their countries. These movements infused other liberation struggles with hope and new ideas, and intertwined the issues of national oppression and racism, oppression because of gender and sexuality, and class inequality. Graphics collectives in U.S. women’s liberation made “Women hold up half the sky” posters in solidarity with the women of the National Liberation Front of Vietnam. The Gay Liberation Front (GLF), formed in New York City immediately after the Stonewall uprising in 1969, named itself in solidarity with that same anti-colonial struggle. These and other struggles have shaped my path and my poetry. I have expanded the understanding of the link between my life, my poetry and my body—my woman’s body, my lesbian body—and the bodies and lives of other people, other peoples. I have expanded my understanding of what it will take to have “a radical, transformative change” in this world, of how there is a deeply material basis for a socialist revolution that can overthrow capitalism and the oppressions kept in place by that economic system—and what the struggle for that change means for me as a poet. As I was writing the poems that became The Sound of One Fork in 1979, I said of my process: “I try to use the most constant natural law of form— that everything changes itself, transforms itself, again and again.” Without knowing it, I was following a path as a poet into the revolutionary work developed through the analysis of theorists like Marx and Engels, who said in The Dialectics of Nature: "All nature, from the smallest thing to the biggest, from a grain of sand to the sun...is in a constant state of coming into being and going out of being, in a constant flux, in a ceaseless state of movement and change." vi
In 2010, after the horrific and preventable British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, I wrote another statement on the relation between my art and my politics: I grew up in central Alabama, where our weather and thunderhead clouds come up from the Gulf, and our river, the Cahaba, flows down to meet the Gulf waters. My first memory is of being carried by my Pa through our glittering river; later I began to understand the complicated twining of my life, my river, the life of the human species, with the Gulf and its beings when I read Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us. Later I began to understand the economic and political intertwinings in my Gulf region as I studied Marx, Engels and other theorists. Eighty per cent of the land in my home county is now owned by corporations—coal, timber—and big financial interests in Alabama exploit workers in countries around the Gulf rim— Russell sports clothing in Mexico, Drummond coal in Colombia, the lumber companies that import Mexican workers displaced by NAFTA to dig vast pine tree plantations in Alabama. In “Estranged Labor,” Marx said, “The worker can create nothing without nature, without the sensuous external world,” and said that nature is our body, “with which [w]e must remain in continuous interchange if [we are] not to die.”viii As capitalism seizes our labor and estranges us from our work, we are simultaneously alienated from nature, and from experiencing ourselves as simply one species intertwined with the world and other species. My work is to make poems that re-establish the link between the “sensuous external world” and our daily life, battered as we are under capitalism by such corporate-engineered crimes as the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. I try to make poems that hold the seeds of another kind of “productive life” than what big business analysts speak of—a life spent not for corporate profit, not in coerced labor, not in relation to nature as an inimical force, but with us the human species in “free, conscious activity” in relation to other beings in the larger process of differentiation and development that is our world.
In 1981 The Sound of One Fork was my first attempt as a poet to say who I was and where I was, precisely, in the great liberation struggles of my time. In 2011 the link between there and here is traceable in me, in my poetry— and, more importantly, in the continuing world-wide movements against oppression and class exploitation. The intimate, close-up struggle for freedom continues: Same-sex love is still on the books as a Class One vii
felony in the anti-sodomy laws of North Carolina. Earlier this year I received a Facebook message from a young lesbian in Alabama who had just lost custody of her childâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;despite the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Lawrence v. Texas) that struck down the anti-sodomy laws used to prosecute same-sex love. And the global struggle against colonization and imperialism continues: The U.S. at the moment of this writing is bombing Libya as part of its strategy to re-colonize the peoples of Africa. I hope you will find connections to this present moment as you read these early poems of mine, made available to you through the hard work of poet and historian Julie Enszer. Please note that the link to this essay and to the book can be shared freely under the Creative Commons copyright stipulations: attribution with no commercial use and no derivative use. As capitalist monopolization of book-publishing and selling increases, and as electronic books are made available through those corporate structures, there are more and more profit-making restrictions placed on how we can access and share books in this new digital era. But sharing the history and result of our â&#x20AC;&#x153;struggle to writeâ&#x20AC;? is crucial to our collective work in the larger world-wide struggle. So, it is heartening to me that thirty years after its creation, you are reading this small book that emerged from an era in which we fought to find and use the ideas and skills of liberation, and pass those on through art and politics. I hope you will find something in these pages to use in the continuing struggle. Minnie Bruce Pratt Syracuse, New York September 12, 2011
For the Women’s Press Collective 1976 chapbook Save Joann Little, go to http://www.lesbianpoetryarchive.org/node/291. For my retrospective article on her case, see http://www.workers.org/2006/us/joann-little-0316/). ii
For more on Feminary and the Women in Print Movement in North Carolina, see Wynn Cherry, “Hearing Me into Speech: Lesbian Feminist Publishing in North Carolina” and Tamara M. Powell, “Look What Happened Here: North Carolina’s Feminary Collective,” both in North Carolina Literary Review 9 (2000). iii
Mev Miller, “A Brief History of Women in Print.” Women in Print - Central Source Networking, 2003. Accessed 5 September 2011. http://www.litwomen.org/WIP/forms/geninfo.pdf iv
“One, Inc. v. Olesen.” Wikipedia, 10 August 2011. Accessed 5 September 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One,_Inc._v._Olesen v
Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères. New York: Avon: 1973.
Elly Bulkin, “Racism and Writing: Some Implications for White Lesbian Critics,” Sinister Wisdom 13 (Spring 1980). vii
Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth. New York, Grove Press, 1963. 223.
Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. New York: International Publishers, 1964. 109.
Editor’s Note to the Electronic Edition of The Sound of One Fork The Sound of One Fork was published by Night Heron Press of Durham, NC in 1981. It was Minnie Bruce Pratt’s first chapbook of poetry. In total, four editions of the chapbook were printed, each edition with five hundred copies. This electronic edition was scanned from a first printing of the chapbook owned by the editor. In 2003, Pratt selected seven poems from the original sixteen in The Sound of One Fork for her book The Dirt She Ate: Selected and New Poems (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press). Of these seven poems, two poems, “My Cousin Anne” and “My Mother Loves Women,” are printed in The Dirt She Ate exactly as they appeared in The Sound of One Fork. Pratt edited the other five poems included in The Dirt She Ate. In this electronic edition edition, a small red oval () in the upper right of the first page of the poem indicates that the poem was modified for The Dirt She Ate. A small blue oval () indicates the poem was included in The Dirt She Ate without changes. In the appendix at the end of this electronic edition, I enumerate the changes in the poems for The Dirt She Ate. The majority of the alterations to the poems are small edits to tighten language; changes that are inevitable for a poet like Pratt’s whose art and craft have matured since the publication of this first chapbook. Two alterations to the original poems are especially significant because they reflect Pratt’s continued political engagements as well as her desire for her poetry to reflect her political commitments. These two changes are in “Cahaba” and “The Segregated Heart.” In “Cahaba,” Pratt removed a comparison between Choctaw people moving in an imagined past in the town and the movement of women. In “The Segregated Heart,” Pratt removed a reference to “a persian harem.” When revising these poems for The Dirt She Ate, Pratt had a heightened political consciousness about racism. The revisions of these poems in The Dirt She Ate reflect Pratt’s increasingly complex understanding about the relationships between white people and people of color in the United States. Her thinking about the issues of race and class is well documented in later work, particularly her essays in Rebellion (Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books, 1991) and in her 2010 collection, Inside the Money Machine (Durham, NC: Carolina Wren Press, 2010). By reproducing these poems in their original form, my intention is to document and highlight how Pratt’s thinking and writing evolved. While this close attention to Pratt’s editorial changes to the poems of The Sound of One Fork may seem elaborate, understanding Pratt’s editorial interventions illuminates Pratt’s dynamic engagements in her poems textually and politically. These comparisons between the publishing of the poems in 1981 and then in 2003 enhance our understanding of both the x
evolution of her work throughout her career and the continued attention to political and cultural formations in her work. It has been a great pleasure for me to spend time with the original chapbook The Sound of One Fork and the revised poems in The Dirt She Ate. I hope contemporary readers find pleasure and meaning in this electronic edition of Prattâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work. Julie R. Enszer September 2012
Appendix This appendix enumerates the changes to the poems from publication in The Sound of One Fork (1981) to The Dirt She Ate (2003). A small red oval () in the upper right of the first page of the poem in the electronic edition indicates that the poem has been edited. Poem: Cahaba There are two edits substantial edits in “Cahaba.” In The Sound of One Fork, the fifth stanza begins with these lines: We pass like Choctaws, silent through the years: men know that Indians walked for flint in River Bend but no man remembers where they went, knows only that the sand at his curve of the river has spread wider since last year. Unnoticed so in their beds generations of women turn and twist the currents of anger under our blank faces. We eddy in the past while our wills rise and fade like the morning mist. But we could flood the fields with rage,
In The Dirt She Ate, these three stanzas are eliminated; in the revision, Pratt begins the fifth stanza “We could flood the fields” and deletes the prepositional phrase “with rage.” Later in the poem, Pratt eliminates four lines from the version in The Sound of One Fork. In The Dirt She Ate the penultimate stanza ends with the line “to the arrowed flight.” In The Sound of One Fork the stanza continues with these lines: when we release beyond all bound the love and hate we have contained.
Poem: Romance Three small phrases are eliminated in the later version of “Romance.” In The Sound of One Fork, the second and third lines of the second stanza are “I was transparent with desire and longing,/clear as glass and ready to break under her look.” In The Dirt She Ate, these lines are combined into the single line “I was clear as glass, ready to break under her look.” In the fourth stanza of the poem, Pratt deletes the word “curved” and the phrase “in that passion” to tighten this segment. It appears in The Sound of One Fork When she lay curved and pressed against me, her breasts became mine until in that passion I did not know who I was
and in The Dirt She Ate When she lay pressed against me, her breasts became mine until I did not know who I was
Poem: Elbows In the first edition of “Elbows,” the second stanza begins, That’s what these folk in Mississippi tell their daughters
In the second and subsequent printing of The Sound of One Fork and in The Dirt She Ate, the second stanza begins, That’s what my neighbors down in Alabama tell their daughters
In “Elbows,” Pratt changed the lineation in the fourth stanza from my skinny, sharp-boned elbows could secure you
in The Sound of One Fork to my skinny, sharp-boned b
elbows could secure you
in The Dirt She Ate. This change makes the middle two stanzas tercets. Poem: The Sound of One Fork There are three cuts in the version of this poem presented in The Dirt She Ate. In the third stanza, Pratt cut the second line of the stanza. In The Sound of One Fork, the stanza opened: Her younger neighbors think that she is lonely, that only death keeps her company at meals.
In The Dirt She Ate, the stanza begins Her younger neighbors think that she is lonely. But I know what sufficiency she may possess.
In the fourth stanza, Pratt strikes a clause. In The Sound of One Fork, third line of the fourth stanza of the poem reads, “I also know desolation and consider death as an end.” In The Dirt She Ate, Pratt tightens the stanza to read, “I also know desolation. The week is over, the coming night/will not lift. I am exhausted from making each day.” Finally in the fifth stanza, Pratt strikes a complete sentence. In The Sound of One Fork, the stanza begins, In the morning and the evening we are by ourselves, the woman next door and I. Sometimes we are afraid of the death in solitude and want someone else to live our lives. Still we persist. I open the drawer to get out the silverware.
In The Dirt She Ate, the stanza begins, In the morning and the evening we are by ourselves, the woman next door and I. Still we persist. I open the drawer to get out the silverware.
Poem: The Segregated Heart “The Segregated Heart” is the final poem in The Sound of One Fork and the longest poem. It is shortened substantially for publication in The Dirt She Ate. Pratt eliminates the headers, “First Home,” “Second Home,” and c
“Third Home” for publication in The Dirt She Ate. She also eliminates the entire section titled “Second Home” for publication in The Dirt She Ate. In the third stanza of the poem, Pratt eliminates these lines “like harsh foreign language./But the afternoon I found her in the front room,/sprawled and drunk on the flowered rug[.]” In the second stanza of the “Third Home” section, which becomes the ninth stanza of “The Segregated Heart” in The Dirt She Ate, Pratt inserts a stanza break, creating the ninth and tenth stanzas. ***